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After four games on the road, the Wine & Gold finally return home – briefly – for a Thursday night matchup with the Sixers. Following tonight’s contest, the Cavs get right back on the road for three.
The Cavaliers took the first game of their recent roadie, but fell in the final three, including Monday night’s one-sided affair in Salt Lake City. The heavyweight Jazz jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, extending their lead to 41 points in the fourth quarter over a shorthanded Cavs squad that was essentially without every big man besides Isaiah Hartenstein, who was making his team debut.
The Sixers wrap up their six-game trip on Thursday night in Cleveland – looking to avoid a three-game losing streak overall and a four-game skid to the Cavaliers. Playing again without Joel Embiid, Philly dropped their last two games out West – falling to the Clippers on Saturday and in Denver on Tuesday night.
The Wine & Gold have taken both decisions against Philly this year – drubbing the Sixers by 24 points in the third game of the season and taking an overtime thriller in Philly for their third straight win back in late February.
With Joel Embiid – who’s missed the previous nine games with a bone bruise in his left knee – getting closer but still on the shelf, much of the offensive burned has shifted to do-it-all guard Ben Simmons.
Arguably the most versatile defender in the league, Simmons has been the model of consistency since being the top pick in 2016 out of LSU. And in a league that loves the long-ball, Simmons has attempted nine triples all year, 33 over the course of his career.
Simmons isn’t usually a threat to explode offensively – although he did go for 42 points and 12 assists against the stingy Jazz this year – but he’s struggled on that end over the last three games of the trip, averaging 11.7 points over that stretch. Against Denver, he totaled two boards and in the last two losses he has five combined assists.
Despite the two losses, Simmons has been good against Cleveland this year, averaging 19.5 points per – including a 24-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound effort in the OT defeat in Philly.
In terms of consistency, Collin Sexton is about as steady as it gets, and even in a difficult loss on Monday in Utah, the Young Bull still topped the 20-point plateau – going 8-for-18 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the stripe, adding three boards, two assists and a pair of steals.
In his two meetings with Simmons and the Sixers this year, the third-year man from Bama has topped the 20-point mark twice – finishing with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the early-season blowout and notching 28 points to go with five boards, three assists and three steals in the overtime victory in late February.
It’s hard to believe that Tobias Harris is in his 10th year, but the veteran forward is currently having his best year as a pro – averaging a career-best 20.7ppg on .517 shooting.
Now in his second full season with the Sixers, Harris has also had to pick up the slack offensively with Embiid sidelined. In 42 games this season, the former No. 19 overall pick out of Tennessee has notched double-figure scoring in every game but one.
This year, he’s tallied 23 games of 20-plus and two 30-point games, including a 36-point outing in the same game Simmons scored 42 against the Jazz. He finished with 16 points and nine boards in his only meeting against the Cavs this year.
Rookie Isaac Okoro will spend much of his evening trying to slow down the 10-year vet on Thursday.
Okoro has drawn the toughest assignment on a nightly basis during his freshman season in Cleveland, and other than a five-game stretch earlier this year, has started every game.
The No. 5 pick out of Auburn started the recent roadie off with a solid 12-point performance on 5-of-7 shooting against the Bulls, but failed to net double-figures in any of the next three outings – struggling on 2-for-16 shooting over his last two.